I have to admit that Backyard Blueprints isn’t the sort of book I would normally buy as it has a design focus which isn’t my real interest. However, as it focusses on small gardens, or backyards, I thought it might have some interesting ideas for my garden, so agreed to review it.
David Stevens, the author, is a garden designer with 11 gold medals from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show under his belt. He has also written many garden books primarily on design. The blurb on the cover states that the book ‘demystifies the stages of designing a garden’ and it is certainly set out in a user-friendly style with accessible language.
I liked the approach that you should ignore trends and do what is right for you. As Stevens states “It will not be some fancy and impractical vignette from a glossy magazine, rather a slightly haphazard, comfortable and electic composition.” This sounds more my style than anything featured in a glossy magazine. The book condenses each element of design into one or two pages; so when looking at design styles you have a two page spread on formal and freeform and one on asymmetric. The content is image heavy with lots of diagrams breaking down the elements in an associated photograph.
As with any design book which focusses on small gardens the usual suspects are present: boundaries, privacy, linking inside and out but changing levels and tricking the eye are also covered, including practical information about building steps. Given that turf isn’t really practical in a small garden there is a sizeable section on various hard landscaping options which appears to be very comprehensive. All sorts of garden structures are considered and instructions and advice given for many including a rather lovely arch and a slightly quirky slatted bench both of which I have started to drop hints to my son about.
Being obsessed with plants I have to confess that this is the part of the book that I looked at more closely. This is not the book for someone looking for lots of specific plant details. However, if like me you are guilty of impulse buying and consequently have bitty looking planting then this book is very helpful in making you think about how you combine and associate plants. Planting in layers and drifts is discussed as well as how to use the shape, colour and texture of plants together. I particularly liked this section as I have slowly been getting my head around how you need vertical accents to bring interest to mounds of plants as well has having large leaves combined with smaller more intricate ones. The author states “even the permutations of how just six of them (plants) taken at random could be arranged are almost endless” which is true but I think it would have been nice to have seen some examples of this – a montage of six arrangements would have been very instructive; a missed trick I felt.
When it comes to colour I was grateful that Stevens did not launch into one of those complicated explanations of the colour wheel such as you find in so many books of this genre. Instead he takes a more user-friendly approach by quoting Jekyll’s dictum that hot colours attract and cool colours recede and then explains how this works in reality. Lastly, in the plant section there are two interesting sections on plants for shade and hot dry areas with planting plans which really are very useful in giving you a good selection of plants to choose from.
Backyard Blueprints will not show you how to actually draw a design for your garden nor how to lay your paving; it’s not a How to Book. However, it will show you how to take the basic ideas and tweak them to create something special. The author shows you the alternatives available and the effects each choice produces. I think the book shows you that you can pick and choose elements and ideas which appeal to you and create a small garden or backyard that works for you and your family and is individualistic rather than feeling you need to replicate some prescribed design in a magazine – unless of course that is what you want!